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Cairns Versus Cruising: Which One Is Cheaper?

October 14, 2017 Headline News, Travel Feature No Comments Email Email

The equation was simple enough: Dallas Sherringham (and son) compare a week in Cairns and Port Douglas to a cruise along the Australian coast.

I had often been slammed by friends for going cruising rather than “Seeing Australia First”, so I decided to bite the bullet and head north for a week with my son. It was kind a “spur of the moment” decision which had to be planned in just a few hours.

I did all the bookings online which made it really easy.

Australia has always been an expensive place to travel if you fly, stay in quality accommodation and hire cars along the way. However when you have only a week to see a particular region, you have to be willing to fork out some hard earned to do it properly.

And besides, it seems Australian operators have finally seen the light and started offering attractive packages. The flight with Tiger Air was simple enough to book, costing $140 each way per person.

The amazing drive from Cairns to Port Douglas

This should have cost just $560 all up, but by the time you add in all the extras like 20kg of baggage each, insurance and extra leg room it cost another $400 all up.

Now, Tiger Air has this great web site where you can book your car and accommodation after you have booked your flight. I know the other airlines do this, but it was so easy on this web site I would recommend it if you are planning a quick getaway.

I arranged an excellent deal through Thrifty for $420 for our stay, originally planned for 17 days as I had organised to stay on and visit friends. That gave us a Toyota Corolla, a very good car for touring North Queensland because it gives excellent mileage.

Cape Tribulation easily reachable by 2wd car

The extra insurance was hefty, but luckily Thrifty capped it to 10 days so it cost me around $400.I eventually cut the hire time back to just eight days, but Thrifty gave me a refund on the hire costs for the time I didn’t use.

Accommodation was to be at the Holiday Inn and I picked up a three day package for around $400. The Holiday Inn is just out of the main tourist area but offers great access and good parking. It cost me an extra $25 a night to secure an ocean view room with a superb outlook and a large balcony.

I decided to “rough it” in Port Douglas and stay in a caravan park cabin for $95 a night. This was very close to town and walking distance to the beach.

This put us in easy reach of Cape Tribulation which is easily reachable in a 2wd vehicle these days. An unexpected extra was the Daintree River car ferry which cost $27.

Watching the parachutes land on Mission Beach

We returned to Cairns for another three nights at the Holiday Inn for another $450 plus $25 a night upgrade. This allowed us to visit Atherton and Mission beach which are well worth the drive.

So far, travelling to North Queensland for two people seemed to compare very favourably with a cruise up the coast from Sydney. However things soon changed dramatically.

Next up, I looked at doing a reef cruise, but they wanted a hefty $250 for a day snorkelling from a pontoon so I gave it a miss and saved us $500.

The Kuranda Railway and Skylift tour was also heftily priced so it was scratched off the list as I had done it twice before.

This is where cruising comes into its own because you get to visit great islands and beaches for free.

The other big cost on I never expected would add so much was food. We ate at licensed clubs and cheap eateries along the main tourist strip, but any sort of quality meal cost $30 plus.

For two people over a week, dining out each night cost around $700 all up. We arranged our own breakfast and lunch most days. Once again, this is free on board a cruise ship.

Stunning Palm Cove just 20 minutes from Cairns

So, all up our trip for two to Cairns cost just under $5000 all up. Had we done the normal tourist activities it would have been closer to $6000.

Searching the internet this week, I found a 10 night Great Barrier Reef cruise on P&O for $2500 per person, staying in a balcony cabin. It visited Cairns, Port Douglas and Airlie Beach.

However, this is where it became interesting comparing the two. Insurance on the ship would have cost me $400 for two people; I would have had to pay for shore tours where applicable at $300 for two people per tour.

Dining out at speciality restaurants was also an added extra plus I had to pay for wi fi on board. Wine on board cruise ships is also exorbitantly priced

I reckon that the two versions of the tour to Cairns would surprisingly have been very similar in cost. This came as a big shock.

You have to weigh up the freedom that a hire car gives you and the nightlife on shore compared with the relaxed lifestyle, dining, free shows and activities on board a ship.

Words and photos by Dallas Sherringham

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